The other day, I saw a text graphic on Facebook that contained these words: “Fear has no place in the life of a believer.” The caption explained that if we truly know we are eternally loved, fear should not be part of our lives. A pastor posted this. Another time, in a Bible study setting, I heard a pastor’s wife talk about doing a shooter drill at her children’s school (also her place of employment) and how as a believer she was full of peace, but her unbelieving co-worker was wrought with fear. Her comment after sharing the story was similar to the text graphic: she didn’t have any fear about the situation, because she was a believer.
Scripture Acknowledges Our Fear
These two examples show that, especially in the Church, fear and anxiety are still stigmatized. Yes, all over Scripture we hear, “do not fear,” but it’s said with the expectation that we will fear (Ps. 56:3). It’s a natural human experience. God knows this, and Jesus was familiar with it. When Jesus calmed the storm for His disciples, He did tell them they had small faith, but He also never denied the severity and danger of the storm. Peter had “little faith” because he believed the danger of the storm was stronger than the power of Jesus. And we can’t forget the overall context of this scenario: Jesus was always using these situations (signs and miracles) to point to His even greater spiritual power over the curse of sin and death. He was always pointing to His death and resurrection.
In fact, I believe it can be argued that Jesus Himself experienced fear and anxiety (yet without any taint of sin) in the Garden of Gethsemane (Luke 22:39–46). He sweat blood and tears. He had to have been anxious and in great turmoil on the night before He died, knowing what was ahead of Him. And yet, we see in the midst of His anxiety, Jesus shows us that we must pray as He did.
There is much to fear in this life. The Bible never negates this but always assumes it. I believe fear will always be a part of a believer’s life (though some will battle it worse than others). This is because of the curse and because we are made of dust (Ps. 103:14). Jesus is fully capable of delivering us from our fear and anxiety, and many of us might have a testimony of Him doing that, but the only full victory that Jesus promises us in this life is victory over the consequences and power of our sin through the gospel. There is no “name it and claim it” in Scripture for complete deliverance from fear and anxiety in this life; that is a promise we can only claim for the life to come.
A Valley Path to Growth in Our Fear
We can experience growth in this area, and that is God’s desire for every believer in Christ. How do we do this?
- We ask God to help us be aware of ourselves.
- We strive to be open and honest with special people in our lives whom we trust.
- We open ourselves to input and comfort from these special people.
Of course, there will be some people who might need professional help or even medication in addition to these three steps. Following the protocol above should help with growth and management of fear and anxiety, but it’s unrealistic and even unbiblical to assume every person with these struggles will be completely delivered and never experience these feelings again.
When I went through my own dark season of anxiety I clung to the biblical idea of Christ as my Shepherd. It comforted my vulnerable heart and mind. Psalm 23 is a perfect description of living in a fallen world: “the valley of the shadow of death,” the fear that naturally accompanies the valley, and the comforting promise of Christ’s presence. “The valley of the shadow of death” can be a particular season, a particular struggle, suffering in general, death itself, or just the effects of the curse. But the next verse tells us that even in this dark valley we don’t have to fear evil. Why is that? Because Jesus is with us. His rod and staff comfort us because he leads us and guides us through the darkness. Though we are vulnerable to enemy attacks in the valley, and we can’t see the light, Jesus walks with us as a loving Shepherd, and He will see us through safely. This is our hope amidst the darkness: we do not walk alone.
In fact, Jesus Himself is familiar with the valley. He knows darkness. He knows how it feels to be made of dust. He sympathizes with our weaknesses, because He was once weak. We don’t walk with an unfeeling God in the darkness, but with a God who feels our pain. We walk with a Friend who has been there before and understands. So, because of this, the “do not fear” commands throughout Scripture are never said with condemnation or disapproval of us, they are said gently, reminding usf where to place our eyes. “Do not fear” is a reminder of the hope and comfort of Christ’s presence. Because we have Him, we have everything we need. This is why He tells us: “Fear not, for I am with you; be not dismayed, for I am your God; I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you with my righteous right hand” (Is. 41:10).